California, the Golden State, is one of the best places in the country to go for a road trip. Start in sunny San Diego and make your way north to the iconic — if somewhat foggy — San Francisco. There are two main routes between the cities; one is much faster and not as scenic (covered here), while the other is chock-full of natural beauty along the Pacific Coast Highway. Whichever route you choose, you're likely to have a great time. Here's an itinerary for the fastest route between San Diego and San Francisco via I-5 North.
Drive Time from San Diego to San Francisco: approximately 8 hours
Distance from San Diego to San Francisco: approximately 500 miles
Best Car for this Road Trip: SUV
Day 1: Strike out from San Diego, and hop on I-5 North; travel the 124 miles to Los Angeles. If you want to avoid getting stuck in heavy traffic, try to travel on a weekend. Bring at least one friend along, so you can take advantage of High-Occupancy Volume (HOV) lanes! Think about leaving midmorning so that you'll get to Los Angeles around lunchtime. Grab a tasty meal at one of LA's best restaurants. Then, spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the city. See a professional sports game, go to the beach, or check out a museum. If you plan to stop in Los Angeles, be sure to rent a compact car in San Diego so that parking is easier in this thriving city. Of course, if you want to skip LA in favor of something even more exhilarating, you can head up to Santa Clarita, which is roughly 34 miles north of LA. There, you'll find the magnificent Six Flags Magic Mountain.
Day 2: Drive the 383 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco. There aren’t too many fascinating sights along the way, so this is your chance to simply sit back and enjoy the drive. Make a playlist before you leave, so you can rock out to your favorite tunes.
If you leave early in the morning, you'll reach San Francisco in time to
grab lunch. If you like Asian-style foods, head to Chinatown for some of the best ethnic eats in the country. Alternatively, you can spend the rest of the afternoon at Pier 39, a waterfront shopping area that has restaurants aplenty. It's also a great spot to catch sight of some sea lions.
Days 3, 4 and 5: Explore the City by the Bay! Start out by taking a drive and familiarizing yourself with the area. Cross the Golden Gate Bridge, check out Golden Gate Park, and go to the top of Grizzly Peak for a spectacular view. After your drive, park your car at your hotel and strike out to explore the city on foot and via public transportation — the city's old cable cars are always fun. There are tons of things to do in the city. You can visit Alcatraz, explore the Mission District, eat fabulous food, and take photos at the Palace of Fine Arts.
You can also take a few trips outside of San Francisco to experience the
surrounding area. Go to Oakland to catch a baseball game, taste wine in Sonoma County, or go to Half Moon Bay to catch a glimpse of the magnificent redwoods or a spectacular sunset.